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Nowhere to go: Harrisonburg's homeless protest loss of shelter

Calvin Pynn
Emmanuel Martinez holds a sign near during Monday's protest.

A temporary homeless shelter on the James Madison University campus closed today [Monday, Aug. 15]. With nowhere else to go, unhoused people in Harrisonburg and their advocates protested outside city hall. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports.

The closing of the low-barrier shelter operated by Open Doors means that many of the people who rely on it will actually be on the street for the first time since becoming homeless. That includes Emmanuel Martinez. He said they’re simply calling for the city to cut them a break.

MARTINEZ: We’re not really asking for much, I mean, either somewhere we can camp out or somewhere that we can stay where we won’t be threatened, harassed or discriminated by the folks in the city until that shelter opens up or we can find a place.

The permanent shelter recently approved by city council won’t be finished until next year, and the churches that operate thermal shelters for Open Doors won’t open until late in the fall.

Sam Nickels, director of Our Community Place in Harrisonburg, says that a pause on arrests of Harrisonburg’s homeless could help the situation.

SAM NICKELS: One of the hardest challenges is trying to find a place that’s clean and dry and warm at night and the police come along and ask you to move at 2 am, or 4am, or midnight. That can be very stressful for folks, and a lot of people are already dealing with anxiety and mental health, and substance abuse histories, and trauma histories.

Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed will host a forum next Monday, August 22, to brainstorm solutions for Harrisonburg’s homeless until a new shelter can open.

Calvin Pynn is a radio reporter, writer, and photographer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia.